We often forget that garden flowers were originally wildflowers. This is easy to do with tulips because they look so perfect and don’t match any of our wildflowers.
Tulips (Tulipa sp.) are members of the Lily family (Liliaceae) originally from southern Europe and Central Asia. Their nearest relatives are three wildflower genera, shown in the slideshow below.
Erythronium: The leaves are the right shape but the flower faces down. This is the genus of our trout lilies.
Amana: The flower looks like a tiny white tulip but the leaves are too narrow.
Gagea: This mostly Asian genus has thin leaves and more open flowers, least like a tulip.
Erythronium caucasicum, native to central Caucasus and North Iran (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Amana edulis, native to China, Korea, Japan (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Gagea lutea, native to Eurasia from Spain to Japan (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
None of the tulips’ wild relatives look exactly like a tulip because they’ve been cultivated and crossbred since the 10th century in Persia. In the 1500s, Europeans visiting the Ottoman Empire saw garden tulips and were so impressed that they brought them home. Everyone fell in love with them.
By the 1600s tulips were a luxury item, The Netherlands was the main tulip-producing nation, and the most prized tulips were those with a color “break” of two or more colors, often striped as shown below. (Ironically the “break” was caused by a virus that damaged the tulip.)
In the 1630s the Netherlands developed a futures market on tulip bulbs and set the stage for Tulip Mania, a period of wild speculation in 1636-1637. At the height of Tulip Mania the top price paid for a coveted tulip rose to 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. It’s hard to translate that into today’s dollars, but my guess is $500,000 to $1 million for a single tulip bulb.
The mania ended abruptly when the market collapsed in February 1637.
Tulips went back to the garden and eventually escaped to the wild in western Europe. After all, they used to be wild flowers.
This 7-minute video is a good explanation of Tulip Mania.
(photos and chart from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the captions to see the originals)
In eastern North America, spiral stalks of pleated leaves are often found in wet places where skunk cabbage grows. These pretty leaves are sometimes mistaken for skunk cabbage or wild leeks but a word to the wise: leave them alone. This plant is false hellebore (Veratrum viride) and it is very poisonous.
False hellebore is a member of the lily family that grows in wet meadows, hillside seeps, and along stream banks. It blooms in big greenish-yellow clusters but I’ve never seen its flowers, probably because I only notice the plant in late April when it isn’t blooming.
In fact, lots of people in Appalachia notice false hellebore in the spring because they’re looking for ramps (wild leeks, Allium tricoccum) to eat at home. Those who mistakenly eat false hellebore are in for a very bad time:
Symptoms of false hellebore poisoning include burning sensation in the mouth and throat, excessive salivation, cold sweat, headache, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and gastrointestinal distress (diarrhea, gas), slow respiration and breathing difficulty, slow and irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, and spasms or convulsions. If not promptly and effectively treated, false hellebore poisoning can cause general paralysis and even death. It is also known to cause birth defects.
Stinging nettle looks innocent until you touch it.
The stems and leaves are coated with tiny hollow hairs that contain histamines and painful chemicals. When you touch the plant the hairs detach and become needles in your skin. Look closely to see them on the leaf edges and stems below.
Stinging nettle resembles a lot of other nettles so the best way to identify it is to look closely for those tiny hairs. Watch out! … Ow!
A flower that’s poisonous to one particular mammal …
If you have a cat, keep this plant far away from him. Easter lilies are extremely poisonous to cats.
Native to Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands of Japan, Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum) are popular flowers at this time of year. Unfortunately every part of the plant is poisonous to cats: the flowers, the leaves, the stem, even the pollen.
What’s blooming in southwestern Pennsylvania this weekend?
Yesterday’s joint outing of the Botanical Society of Western PA and Wissahickon Nature Club found a lot of spring flowers at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County, 6 April 2019.
Hepatica was blooming in shades of white, pink and blue. In the photo above, the leaves aren’t visible so I can’t tell if this plant is round-lobed (Anemone americana) or sharp-lobed (Anemone acutiloba) hepatica.
Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa) was blooming along the valley trail. Did you know this plant is in the Carrot family?
Snow trillium (Trillium nivale) covered the hillside beyond the last bridge …
… and spicebush’s (Lindera benzoin) tiny yellow flowers were a nice surprise.
Most of the spring beauty was not in bloom but we found Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), a specialty at Cedar Creek shown below.
This bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was bright white by the bike trail. Its leaves are barely visible, clutching the stem, while a garlic mustard leaf tries to photo-bomb the bottom corner.
CORRECTION ABOUT BUCKEYES: Last week Stephen Tirone investigated the buckeye buds in Schenley and Frick Parks and learned that these are yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) not Ohio buckeyes (Aesculus glabra). Though Ohio buckeyes are more common in the wild, Pittsburgh’s parks are not “wild.” Schenley and Frick Parks were landscaped with ornamentals when the parks were established more than 100 years ago. Yellow buckeyes are often planted as ornamental trees and may be hybridized to produce showy flowers. So, yes, these are yellow buckeyes.
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Garlic mustard and goutweed leaves, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Early blooming coltsfoot, 17 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Hairy bittercress, purple dead nettle and garlic mustard leaves, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Forsythia beginning to bloom, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Honeysuckle leaves, 28 March 2019 (photo by Kate St. John)
Spring is coming at a good pace this year. Unlike hot years, such as March 2012, there’s time to appreciate each new leaf and flower before the next set appears.
My photos above show a selection of leaves and flowers at Schenley Park this past week. Most were taken on March 28 but the real surprise was coltsfoot blooming on St. Patrick’s Day. That flower hid for ten days and appeared again last week.
Unfortunately, all of these plants are alien and some are invasive. Their ability to spring ahead of the local plants gives them an advantage all year long.
Click here for that same honeysuckle branch, bud-to-leaves on March 11, 16.